Health sector in imminent total collapse as NMA joins strike

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*Ngige

There is impending total collapse of Nigeria’s health sector as the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) issued a 21-day strike notice to the federal government, with effect from Monday, August 30.

The medical doctors issued the strike notice at the end of its national council meeting held in Benin, Edo State.

The doctors’ union and its affiliates, in a statement signed by the NMA secretary general, Prof Innocent Ujah and the secretary, Dr Phillips Ekpe, said it fully supported all its affiliates in their efforts to improve healthcare delivery in Nigeria and the Welfare of their members and therefore resolved to give the federal government a 21-day notice to fully resolve all the issues contained in the various agreements signed with the doctors.

“After due consideration NEC has put the federal government on a 21-day notice to fully resolve all the issues contained in the various agreements signed with affiliate members of the NMA, including the Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Dental Specialist Association in Basic Medical Sciences (MeDSABAMS) and National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD).

“NEC affirms that no doctor shall be victimised for participating/not participating in the strike action by NARD.

“In the event that the federal government fails to implement the agreements after the expiration of the 21- day notice, NMA shall summon an emergency delegate meeting to review the progress made on the implementation of the agreements,” the NMA said.

The NMA frowned at the instruction for immediate implementation of the “No Work, No Pay” rule issued by the federal ministry of health to the chief medical directors and medical directors of federal tertiary institutions.

The rule applies to all resident doctors and other medical professionals who have failed to report to work since August 2.

It would be recalled that recalled that MDCAN had on August 15 resolved to shelve its planned strike while it gave the federal government a four-week grace to reverse the removal of the consultants from the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure (CONMESS) to the Consolidated University Academic Salary Structure (CONUASS) by their employing universities.

MeDSABAM had also given the federal government a four-week ultimatum to resolve its issues.

Meanwhile, the Forum of Chairmen of Health Institutions in Nigeria (FCHIN) yesterday called for quick resolution of the ongoing strike by the NARD.

The body said the continued resort to strike by health workers disrupts services, adding that it does not portray the country in good light.

The forum said it would meet with the leadership of the NMA and representatives of the federal ministry of health to find solution to incessant strike in the health sector.

Chairman of the forum, Dr. Sam Jaja, who led the leadership of the forum to a meeting with the minister of labour and employment, Dr Chris Ngige in Abuja, said FCHIN would choose a four-pronged approach to resolve the dispute.

Speaking during the meeting, Ngige said the federal government had set aside N4.8 billion as a residency training fund for the striking resident doctors in the country.

He said the leadership of the NARD gave the government an impossible condition before they would agree to sign the MOU reached at the last conciliatory meeting.

He said the resident doctors wanted the government to exempt them from the application of Section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act that provides for ‘no work, no pay’ sanctions for striking workers

While giving an update on the efforts being made to meet the demands of the doctors, Ngige said that the implementation of the MOA signed on August 21 with the doctors was on course.

He said the government has adopted a holistic approach to tackling the challenges in the health sector, noting that some of the issues in contention cut across sectors.

He added that the government bent backward to improve the ease of the practice of medicine in the country despite dwindling resources.

“The resident doctors are on the scheme of service against which obtained earlier. There was nothing like that. Nigeria is also about the only country that has the Medical Residency Training Fund, backed up by an Act, Medical Residency Training Act, passed into law by this administration in 2018. N4.8 billion is already in 2021 Service Wide Vote for this – to cover exam fees, books, travel to exam centres, and accommodation. We are battling to meet up the timeline on this,” he said.

He added: “NARD wants a particular clause to be inserted in the agreement that section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act should not apply to them. That we should insert in it a government agreement that they should be paid for the period they are not at work.

“I’m being careful about this. This is law and I will not lend myself to illegality to state in the agreement that a group of Nigerians are above the law. But as a matter of fact, a clause in that agreement states clearly that nobody should be punished for participating or not participating in the strike.

“So, what else do they want? They want me to put it in writing that they are above the law.  That ‘No work No pay’ should not apply to them. That ‘No work, No pay’ is no more part of our law, despite the fact that I swore to uphold the constitution?

“This is notwithstanding that a clause in the agreement says that no one should be punished for any role in the strike. This is why they refused to sign the MOU and call off the strike, and not because government has not substantially met their demands.”

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